Scientists from the United States have presented a new material that can be used to create fuel tanks. They can make rockets 2 tons lighter and save billions of dollars.
A team of scientists from MT Aerospace has developed a new type of material that will be extremely useful in one of the most important parts of any rocket engine – fuel tanks.
The material itself is not new – it is carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the technology has been around for decades and is widely used in automotive, aerospace and civil engineering. However, until now, no one has succeeded in making a fuel tank for a rocket out of it.
At first, several difficulties had to be overcome – to make it hermetically sealed, and then to carry out tests at the cryogenic pressure that occurs when storing rocket fuel. The hydrogen and oxygen that combine in a rocket engine are difficult to store. Existing tanks, even those that were mostly made of composite materials, had internal metal lining to keep the highly reactive gas from escaping from the tank.
However, metal cladding also has a downside – it is heavy and requires many more parts and manufacturing steps than a pure CFRP tank. Since launch costs are one of the main cost drivers of space exploration, and weight is directly related to launch costs, reducing the weight and number of components is attractive to rocket manufacturers.
When ready, the company will provide the first major cryogenic test of a full-size CFRP system. If the technology proves to be as effective at scale up as at small scale, it could reduce the weight of the missiles by two tons.